Last week the big sports news was about a football player sitting down when Colin Kaepernick chose to sit out the playing of the National Anthem in protest of racial inequality in America. But there was another football player who sat down recently, for an altogether different reason.
Travis Rudolph, a wide receiver for Florida State University, was visiting Montford Middle School in Tallahassee with several of his teammates and, while walking through the cafeteria, he saw a young boy, Bo Paske, sitting alone. Rudolph grabbed a slice of pizza and asked Bo if he could join him.
Bo said, “Sure, why not.”
And so Rudolph sat with Bo, and talked with Bo, and learned that Bo loves Florida State and football; he also learned that Bo suffers from autism, which is why, most days, he eats alone since the other kids won’t share a lunch table with him.
After school that day, Bo told his mother, Leah, that he’d met Travis Rudolph and that Travis ate lunch with him. Leah nearly cried, realizing for that one day she hadn’t needed to worry about Bo eating alone, and she took to Facebook to share Bo’s story and thank Rudolph:
"I'm not sure what exactly made this incredibly kind man share a lunch table with my son, but I'm happy to say it will not soon be forgotten. This is one day I didn't have to worry if my sweet boy ate lunch alone, because he sat across from someone who is a hero in many eyes."
Leah also shared her anxieties in her Facebook post about middle schools and kids with autism, and how she worried for Bo:
"Sometimes I'm grateful for his autism. That may sound like a terrible thing to say, but in some ways I think, I hope, it shields him. He doesn't seem to notice when people stare at him when he flaps his hands. He doesn't seem to notice that he doesn't get invited to birthday parties anymore. And he doesn't seem to mind if he eats lunch alone. It's one of my daily questions for him. Was there a time today you felt sad? Who did you eat lunch with today? Sometimes the answer is a classmate, but most days it's nobody."
But not that day; that day Travis Rudolph decided to sit down, and he made a silent statement, and he made a new friend.
Once the story went viral, as often happens when someone does something kind — which is a whole other story about why we’re shocked by kindness — Travis kept up his friendship with Bo and last week he gave Bo an honorary jersey — one with Travis’s number on it, but with Bo Paske’s name, too — and a pair of tickets to a Florida State game, where Bo and his mother watched Florida State beat Mississippi from the sidelines.
It wasn’t much … a chat over lunch … a free shirt … a football game … but it meant the world to a sixth-grader who often eats alone.
And all it took was for Travis Rudolph to sit down.